There is a world of in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing that stag­gers in terms of size and depth.Here’s James Bam­ford in Wired on a fu­ture over which cit­i­zens have no say:

Phys­i­cally, the NSA has al­ways been well pro­tected by miles of high fences and elec­tri­fied wire, thou­sands of cam­eras, and gun-tot­ing guards. But that was to pro­tect the agency from those on the out­side try­ing to get in to steal se­crets. Now it is con­fronting a new chal­lenge: those on the in­side going out and giv­ing the se­crets away.

While the agency has had its share of spies, em­ploy­ees who have sold top-se­cret doc­u­ments to for­eign gov­ern­ments for cash, until the last few years it has never had to deal with whistle­blow­ers pass­ing top-se­cret in­for­ma­tion and doc­u­ments to the press be­cause their con­science de­manded it. This in a place where no em­ployee has ever writ­ten a book about the agency (un­like the pro­lific CIA, where it seems that a book con­tract is in­cluded in every exit pack­age).

As some­one who has writ­ten many books and ar­ti­cles about the agency, I have sel­dom seen the NSA in such a state. Like a night prowler with a bag of stolen goods sud­denly caught in a pow­er­ful Klieg light, it now finds it­self under the glare of non­stop press cov­er­age, ac­cused of rob­bing the pub­lic of its right to pri­vacy. De­spite the stan­dard de­nials from the agency’s pub­lic re­la­tions of­fice, the doc­u­ments out­line a mas­sive op­er­a­tion to se­cretly keep track of every­one’s phone calls on a daily basis – bil­lions upon bil­lions of pri­vate records; and an­other to reroute the pipes going in and out of Google, Apple, Yahoo, and the other In­ter­net gi­ants through Fort Meade – fig­u­ra­tively if not lit­er­ally. 

But long be­fore Ed­ward Snow­den walked out of the NSA with his trove of doc­u­ments, whistle­blow­ers there had been try­ing for years to bring at­ten­tion to the mas­sive turn to­ward do­mes­tic spy­ing that the agency was mak­ing. Last year in my Wired cover story on the enor­mous new NSA data cen­ter in Utah, Bill Bin­ney, the man who largely de­signed the agency’s world­wide eaves­drop­ping sys­tem, warned of the se­cret, na­tion­wide sur­veil­lance. He told how the NSA had gained ac­cess to bil­lions of billing records not only from AT&T but also from Ver­i­zon. “That mul­ti­plies the call rate by at least a fac­tor of five,” he said. “So you’re over a bil­lion and a half calls a day.” Among the top-se­cret doc­u­ments Snow­den re­leased was a For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court order prov­ing the truth to Bin­ney’s claim and in­di­cat­ing that the op­er­a­tion was still going on.

I also wrote about Adri­enne J. Kinne, an NSA in­ter­cept op­er­a­tor who at­tempted to blow the whis­tle on the NSA’s il­le­gal eaves­drop­ping on Amer­i­cans fol­low­ing the 9/11 at­tacks. “Ba­si­cally all rules were thrown out the win­dow,” she said, “and they would use any ex­cuse to jus­tify a waiver to spy on Amer­i­cans.” Even jour­nal­ists call­ing home from over­seas were in­cluded. “A lot of time you could tell they were call­ing their fam­i­lies,” she says, “in­cred­i­bly in­ti­mate, per­sonal con­ver­sa­tions.” She only told her story to me after at­tempt­ing, and fail­ing, to end the il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity with ap­peals all the way up the chain of com­mand to Major Gen­eral Keith Alexan­der, head of the Army’s In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Com­mand at the time. 

With­out doc­u­ments to prove their claims, the agency sim­ply dis­missed them as false­hoods and much of the main­stream press sim­ply ac­cepted that. “We don’t hold data on U.S. cit­i­zens,” Alexan­der said in a talk at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute last sum­mer, by which time he had been serv­ing as the head of the NSA for six years. Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per made sim­i­lar claims. At a hear­ing of the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee last March, he was asked, “Does the NSA col­lect any type of data at all on mil­lions or hun­dreds of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans?” To which Clap­per re­sponded, “No, sir.” The doc­u­ments re­leased by Snow­den, point­ing to the na­tion­wide col­lec­tion of tele­phone data records and not de­nied by gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, prove the re­sponses un­true.

The de­cep­tion by Gen­eral Alexan­der is es­pe­cially trou­bling. In my new cover story for Wired’s July issue, which will be pub­lished on­line Thurs­day, I show how he has be­come the most pow­er­ful in­tel­li­gence chief in the na­tion’s his­tory. Never be­fore has any­one in Amer­ica’s in­tel­li­gence sphere come close to his de­gree of power, the num­ber of peo­ple under his com­mand, the ex­panse of his rule, the length of his reign, or the depth of his se­crecy. A four-star Army gen­eral, his au­thor­ity ex­tends across three do­mains: He is di­rec­tor of the world’s largest in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency; chief of the Cen­tral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice; and com­man­der of the U.S. Cyber Com­mand. As such, he has his own se­cret mil­i­tary, pre­sid­ing over the Navy’s 10th Fleet, the 24th Air Force, and the Sec­ond Army.

The ar­ti­cle also sheds light on the enor­mous pri­va­ti­za­tion not only of the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies but now also of Cyber Com­mand, with thou­sands of peo­ple work­ing for lit­tle-known com­pa­nies hired to de­velop the weapons of cyber war, cyber tar­get­ing, and cyber ex­ploita­tion. The Snow­den case demon­strates the po­ten­tial risks in­volved when the na­tion turns its spy­ing and eaves­drop­ping over to com­pa­nies with lax se­cu­rity and in­ad­e­quate per­son­nel poli­cies. The risks in­crease ex­po­nen­tially when those same peo­ple must make crit­i­cal de­ci­sions in­volv­ing choices that may lead to war, cyber or oth­er­wise.

At a time when the NSA has lost its way and is in­creas­ingly in­fring­ing on the pri­vacy of or­di­nary Amer­i­cans, it shouldn’t come as much of a sur­prise that NSA em­ploy­ees —  whether work­ing for the agency or for one of its con­trac­tors — would feel the oblig­a­tion to alert the pub­lic to the se­cret acts being car­ried out in its name. The only sur­prise is that we haven’t seen more such dis­clo­sures. Gen­eral Alexan­der will surely use all his con­sid­er­able power to pre­vent them. Don’t be sur­prised if he fails.